There’s no question about it – today’s real estate market is one of the most seller-advantageous in recent memory.
Record-low inventory, coupled with historically low interest rates, is leading to multiple offers – and often bidding wars! – for homes in the most sought-after neighborhoods.
Not surprisingly, those on the outside looking in are wondering whether they even need an agent. After all, why spend money when you can just stick a For Sale sign in your yard and then watch a line of frantic buyers wrap around your block?
We all like to save money (full disclosure: I do as well!). However, when it comes to your largest financial asset, forgoing professional representation may not always be in your best interest. You owe it to yourself to discover whether your imagined “savings” are really savings – or are you simply adding risk with little, or no, reward.
Let’s dive in!
SELLING YOUR HOME WITHOUT AN AGENT
There are really only two ways to sell your home if you want to completely avoid representation: 1) the traditional For Sale By Owner (FSBO) route, or 2) selling directly to an investor, such as an iBuyer. Here’s what you can expect in those scenarios.
For Sale By Owner (FSBO).
You’ve heard people talk about FSBOs (“fizz-bohz”) – sellers who prepare, price, and stage their own home and handle their own transaction. FSBOs have to skillfully show the home, and then negotiate directly with the buyer’s real estate agent. According to the National Association of Realtors, nationally about 8% of homes are sold by their owner – and that percentage includes sales to family members or people already known to the owner.
I know that many sellers think that a “hot” real estate market allows them to sell their home themselves, and “save lots of money”. After all, there are lots of buyers out there – and one of them will surely be interested in your home. Right? Think of all the money you’ll save on commission (typically 6% of the home’s price) … plus you’ll have absolute control over the way your home is prepared, priced, and marketed.
One of the first problems FSBOs run into is pricing the home appropriately. Sure, you can spend hours of research looking up recent sales and try to extrapolate from there. But without knowledge of current pricing trends, the ability to have viewed competing properties, and relationships with agents who can tell you what the pending sales are in contract at (versus their asking price) you could very easily end up overpricing your home (causing it to languish on the market) – or underpricing your home (leaving thousands of dollars on the table as savvy buyers’ agent take advantage of you).
Even during the last year’s strong seller’s market, the median sales price for FSBOs was 10% less than the median price of homes sold with the help of a real estate agent. And during a more balanced market, like the one we experienced in 2018, FSBO homes sold for 24% less than agent-represented properties. So while you may think that you’ll price and market your home more effectively yourself, in fact you may end up losing far, far more than the amount you would pay for an agent’s assistance.
The second problem faced by FSBOs is getting buyers in the door. You’ll need to put together the kind of marketing that today’s buyers expect to see. This includes bringing in a professional photographer, writing the listing description, and designing marketing collateral like flyers and mailers—or hiring a writer and graphic designer to do so. You’ll also need to develop a robust online marketing campaign.
Next, you’ll need to offer virtual showings and develop a COVID safety protocol. You’ll then need to schedule an in-person showing (or in some cases, two or three) for each potential buyer. Because you don’t have access to the electronic key boxes used by agents (which not only dispense keys but also track who has been in your home), this means being at home to accommodate showings while still allowing buyers the privacy to “kick the tires”. Creating safe and reasonable access to your home is your third hurdle.
Let’s assume you have interested buyers. You’ll be on your own to evaluate offers and determining their financial viability. There are questions you need to be asking of buyers and/or their agents. Do you know what they are? This lack of knowledge is the fourth hurdle you’ll face.
Challenge #5? You need to thoroughly understand all legal contracts and contingencies, as well as market trends for contracts. This requires a strong understanding of terms, and implications of those terms, including those for the financing contingency, home inspection and closing process.
And all that money you were going to save – the 6%? While you’re doing all of this work, it’s likely that you’ll still need to pay the buyer agent’s commission, which is typically 3%. Over 94% of buyers in our area are represented by an agent, so the odds are very, very high that you will need to pay that 3% commission to sell your home.
Are you willing to go into this sale with an experienced and savvy agent negotiating for their client – representation that you are paying for – while you are on your own to save 3%? Be sure to weigh your potential savings against the significant risk and effort involved.
When you choose to work with an excellent listing agent, you’ll save significant time and effort while minimizing personal risk and liability. And the increased profits realized through a more effective marketing and negotiation strategy could more than make up for the cost of your agent’s share of the commission.
iBuyers have been on the scene since around 2015, providing sellers the option of a direct purchase from a real estate investment company rather than a traditional direct-to-consumer sales process.4 iBuyer companies tout their convenience and speed, with a reliable, streamlined process that seems attractive to some sellers.
The idea is that instead of listing the home on the open market, the homeowner completes an online form with information about the property’s location and features, then waits for an offer from the company. The iBuyer is looking for a home in good condition that’s located in a good neighborhood — one that’s easy to flip and falls within the company’s algorithm.
For sellers who are more focused on speed and convenience, typically due to a hardship of some kind, an iBuyer may offer an attractive alternative to a traditional real estate sale. That’s because iBuyers evaluate a property quickly and make an upfront offer without requesting repairs or other accommodations.
However, sellers will pay for that convenience with, generally, a far lower sale price than the market will provide as well as fees that can add up to as much or more than a traditional real estate agent’s commission. According to a study conducted by MarketWatch, iBuyers netted, on average, 11% less than a traditional sale when both the lower price and fees are considered. Other studies found some iBuyers charging as much as 15% in fees and associated costs, far more than you’ll pay for a real estate agent’s commission.
In a hot market, this can mean leaving tens of thousands of dollars on the table since you won’t be able to negotiate, and you’ll lose out on rising home prices caused by low inventory and increased demand. Remember, iBuyers are typically interested in flipping properties, so they’re rarely willing to pay market prices because they have to turn around and pay commissions to agents, excise tax, and other costs. They’re unable to turn a profit if they have paid full value for a home – it simply doesn’t pencil out for them.
In addition, iBuyers are less reliable during times of economic uncertainty, as evidenced by the halt of operations for most iBuyer platforms in early 2020. As a seller, the last thing you want is to start down the road of iBuying only to find out that a corporate mandate is stopping your transaction in its tracks.
If you choose to work with a real estate agent, you can still explore iBuyers as an option. That way you can take advantage of the added convenience of a fast sale with little house-prep while still enjoying the protection and security of having a professional negotiating on your behalf.
SO, IS A REAL ESTATE AGENT RIGHT FOR YOU?
It’s important to understand your options and preferences when considering whether or not to work with a real estate professional. If you are experienced in real estate transactions and legal contracts, comfortable negotiating under high-stakes circumstances, open to risk, are willing to sell your home under market value, and have plenty of extra time on your hands, you may find that an iBuyer or FSBO sale works for you.
However, if you value expert guidance and would like an experienced professional to manage the process, you will probably have far more peace of mind and security in working with a real estate agent.
A real estate agent’s services and expert negotiation skills can benefit sellers financially, as well. On average, sellers who utilize an agent walk away with more money than those who choose the FSBO or iBuyer route.
According to NAR’s profile, the vast majority of buyers (91%) and sellers (89%) are thrilled with their real estate professional’s representation and would recommend them to others.1 That’s why, in terms of time, money, and expertise, most buyers and sellers find the assistance of a real estate agent essential and invaluable.
QUESTIONS ABOUT BUYING OR SELLING? WE HAVE ANSWERS
The best way to find out whether you need a real estate agent is to speak with one. We’re here to help and to offer the insights you need to make better-informed decisions. Let’s talk about the value-added services we provide when we help you buy or sell in today’s competitive market.